The welfare system entrenched in the last decade of Labour government has had two pernicious effects: it has encouraged people not to work; and it has encouraged women and girls to stay single when they have children, because single mothers receive more in benefits than mothers who are married.
Result? Our children grow up trapped in the benefit system. They see benefit dependency as a “lifestyle”: the best one available, other than becoming a criminal.
They have their aspirations destroyed – which makes crime, with its false but persuasive promise of instant riches, very alluring.
Shaun Bailey (Bailey, 2010).
Nearly one in three children, a total of 3.8 million, now lives without their biological father (Office for National Statistics, 2010) and one in four children doesn’t even consider his father to be part of his family (Childwise, 2007); the Centre for Social Justice conservatively estimate that one million children grow up ‘without any meaningful contact with their fathers’ (Centre for Social Justice, 2013). In February 2007 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) produced a report entitled Child poverty in perspective: an overview of child well-being in rich countries. The epigraph to the report read,
The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialisation, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born (Innocenti Research Centre, 2007).
The report analysed 40 indicators of child well-being in 21 developed countries for the years 2000 to 2003. The Netherlands came top of the league, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The United Kingdom came last. Out of 6 categories it came bottom in 3. The reaction of the Government was predictable: it attacked the methodology, claiming that many of the measures were subjective – they were, but applied equally to all countries – and that the data were out-of-date – so some of them were, but they were nevertheless the most recent available, and more recent data showed that the situation had become worse, not better.
George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, said, ‘This report tells the truth about Brown’s Britain. After ten years of his welfare and education policies, our children today have the lowest well-being in the developed world’. The Conservative leader David Cameron declared, ‘Sometimes a piece of research is published which goes straight to the heart of the national debate – it holds up a mirror to the whole of society and makes us see ourselves as we really are’. He said he wanted the report to represent a turning point in the country’s history, and announced a new Conservative commitment to put families ahead of the nation’s wealth.
Correctly, Cameron identified the disintegration of families and the absence of fathers as a major cause of Britain’s social crisis; he recognised the role that must be played by the welfare system ‘so it helps parents stay together, rather than setting up perverse incentives which make a couple better off if they live apart’; he promoted the wider role of society in becoming more child-friendly, enabling parents to exercise their responsibilities: ‘We urgently need to encourage a culture of intervention. In a healthy society, children are the responsibility not just of their parents, but of the whole community’. Sadly, however, he failed to appreciate the true causes of fatherlessness, blaming fathers themselves for their absence – ‘We urgently need to reform the law, and the rules around child maintenance, to compel men to stand by their families’ – and maintaining that the disgraced and discredited CSA could somehow be the solution.
The UNICEF report had a powerful influence; it made people who had previously been complacent about ‘Broken Britain’ sit up and take notice, and it became Conservative policy to make Britain’s children the happiest in Europe; once in power Cameron appointed Labour’s Frank Field to be his new ‘Poverty Tsar’; Cameron said of Field,
He has drawn the link between family breakdown and more instability, more crime, greater pressure on housing and social benefits, arguing that a fundamental principle of the welfare state should be to support families and children (Walters, 2010).
After three years in power, however, Cameron had made no attempt to make Britain family-friendly; an OECD report showed that Britain had one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the western world and that only 69% of children lived with both parents while 27.6% were in single-mother households. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) warned,
Timid politicians are becoming numb to Britain’s sky-high family breakdown rates. Behind too many front doors, instability damages adults and children. Yet, as these OECD figures show, broken families are not some inevitable feature of modern society or social progress (Cockerell, 2012).
There are powerful links between fatherlessness and gang culture. Teenagers are joining gangs at a younger age and indulging in more violent behaviour. Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the charity Kids Company, defines a teen gang as a ‘loose collective of lone children who turn to each other for support’. Their members do not have any supportive adults in their lives, fail at school and feel on the outside of society. She believes, ‘Gang membership provides these young people with a sense of belonging, that they do not benefit from anywhere else’ (Duffy & Gillig, 2004). One gang member put it very succinctly, ‘He said that the anger created by family breakdown “messes children up”, which encourages them to get involved in violence and gangs’ (Centre for Social Justice, 2008). In brief: ‘Young boys join gangs because they are afraid’ (Sergeant, 2007).
Fatherless homes provide rich pickings for those who recruit for gang membership, whilst strong family involvement protects young people against becoming ensnared. Many fewer gang members than non-gang members live with both biological parents (Li, et al., 2002). Maureen Lynch, founder of the charity Mothers Against Guns says, ‘Family values have gone, young people involved in gun crime come from deprived, broken homes and more often than not have been excluded from school. The rise in gun crime is due to the frustration, desperation and jealousy that these young people feel, compounded by the increased availability of guns’ (Duffy & Gillig, 2004). Psychologically these youths have failed to develop attachments to others – normally their parents – which would enable them to see other persons as psychological entities. Youths who grow up without paternal support and discipline are far more likely to get drawn into gang culture, just as they are far more likely to be caught up in drugs – another factor in gang culture – and violent crime. Under the bravado, they are just frightened children,
They don’t know what it’s like when you come from a family that didn’t have a father there to guide you in the right path. They don’t know what it’s like when there is nothing to eat when you come home from school. They don’t know how it feels when your mother tells you that you need to quit school to get a job, because there ain’t enough money for food (Salzman, 2004).
The twin prejudices of misandry and racism have engendered a greater bias against black fathers than against white; these same prejudices dictate the response to gang crime. As long as it predominantly affects the black community and crime is mostly black-on-black officialdom will turn a blind eye, and genuine attempts to approach the problem are gagged by a paralysing political correctness in which any discussion of race is taboo.
Black fathers have unjustly been characterised as particularly irresponsible because of the higher levels of lone motherhood in black communities: more than half of all black children are now brought up without a father. There is no question that culture and ethnic background has a significant impact (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2007a). Commentators had begun to see the link between black fatherlessness and street crime, and especially the alarming number of black-on-black teenage murders, during 2007. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Alasdair Palmer compared the link with that between smoking and cancer (Palmer A. , 2007). In May 2006 Tony Thomas, the father of Adrian Thomas who had recently been sentenced to 25 years for the rape and murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan, had attended a Families Need Fathers meeting; he said Adrian’s mother had been determined to obstruct him from having any involvement with his son and that, had he been allowed to be a father to him, he would never have let him become involved in the gang scene. He said in an interview with the Observer,
We’re losing our kids at a rate of knots and they’re ending up in crime: then everyone’s blaming us and saying we weren’t there when we were there all the time. Black dads are the most alienated from their children. The legal system is not on any dad’s side, but for us black guys our women are against us too. Half these young boys haven’t got a clue what being a man is. Their idea is to get a knife or a gun or a baseball bat and thrash it out over stupidness (Hinsliff, 2006).
The racial and gender stereotyping is profoundly damaging and offensive to black fathers. A study by Black Britain showed that black fathers were struggling to fulfil their roles as reliable, mature and ‘present’ fathers, but were often defeated by restrictive legal rights, constant criticism and a lack of recognition (Black Britain, 2005). Shaun Bailey, a Conservative candidate in the 2010 General Election and co-founder of the charity My Generation, blamed the promotion in the black community of sex without responsibility, he said that the Labour Government failed to promote the married two-parent family ‘in an attempt to be cool and not make people feel bad’ (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2007a). Camila Batmanghelidjh laid the blame on black women, because of their cruelty to and rejection of men,
I also think that actually the mothers are hugely responsible, because they have created a culture where they can get rid of the adolescent boy; they can get rid of the male partner; they can survive on their own. Often people think it is the males who are the culprits, the irresponsible people who actually come along and make these girls pregnant and walk out, and they underestimate the level of rejection and cruelty from the females towards the males. I actually think the males are vulnerable. It starts the minute the adolescent boy looks slightly like a male and behaves like a male and often the mother wants that young male banished from the house and a hate relationship often develops. I really think we underestimate the vulnerabilities of young black men (Ibid.).
Decima Francis, founder of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation expressed the tragic effects of these attitudes, ‘at the moment our men are like bees. Once they reproduce they are of no use and they are dying, and our young black men are dying. They are having strokes at 28’ (Ibid.). Paul Skerret of Black Men and Fatherhood said that it is to government policy that we must look, and to the legal system which,
continually aids in the destruction of families, with its ludicrous orders. A lot of these men are battling in the courts to see their children (Black Britain, 2006).
For Shaun Bailey the solution to the problem was very clear: ‘support for marriage… I put it down to Government policy robbing adults of responsibility’ (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2007a). Similarly Neil Solo of the Babyfather Alliance said,
In our experience, talking with African Caribbean fathers, overwhelmingly the majority want contact and are frustrated in that generally by the operation of the law which would imply that mothers and women are the primary caregivers and also understanding that difficulties post-relationship will make the father visiting and building a relationship with the child somewhat more difficult. I would say that by and large in our experience, talking with fathers, the majority want that contact (Ibid.).
The result of this fatherlessness is a condition many referred to as ‘father-hunger’,
There are boys and young men who without the protection and guidance of fathers struggle each day to figure out what it means to be a man, improvising for themselves expedient and too often violent and self-destructive codes of manhood (Ibid.).
One example shows why black families were losing the fight. In March 2007 the Government commissioned an investigation into the over-representation of black youths in the criminal justice system. Black youths were disproportionately represented as both the perpetrators and the victims of violent crime. According to figures released by the Metropolitan Police in June 2010, although only 12% of the London population was black, they were the suspects in 54% of street crimes, 59% of robberies and 67% of gun crimes (Alderson, 2010). The report was published in July (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2007b). In October the Government responded (Ministry of Justice, 2007b). What is heart-breaking about the report and the Government’s response is the manner in which any reference to the influence on crime of family breakdown was progressively removed. The raw data showed clearly and unequivocally the effects of family breakdown and fatherlessness,
These young men are crying out for fathers… They are looking for that affirmation, they are looking for that identity; they are looking for that role model. They do not find it in the home and they go out and meet a group of men or young boys who are involved in devious activities; they find affirmation (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2007c).
We understand the lack of effective father involvement promotes in young people a condition they have called “father hunger”. African Caribbean children unable to forge a father child closeness experience a trauma, leaving them vulnerable to peer pressure and external influences (Ibid.).
Father-hunger leads inexorably to antisocial behaviour and to gang membership,
Critically this study implies, families and children who experience father hunger are more vulnerable to influences, action and behaviour resulting in anti-social behaviour, as perpetrators, suspects and victims (Ibid.).
Whereas the presence of a father prevents this,
The point being, children from a married, two-parent family, like it or not, do better: less time in jail; less time in hospital; more time in school; greater careers. That is a fact (Ibid.).
What we have found out there is that fathers are extremely important in many areas, such as raising self-esteem, building self-worth in children that can help to make them more resilient against the more destructive aspects of youth culture (Ibid.).
There is little doubt about the causes of this situation,
You gave licence to young girls to go out and get pregnant so that they can leave their family home, because you gave them flats and money and furniture, but you did a very dangerous thing in that you said that the young men, their partners, were not allowed to live there or be there, and then you talk about fatherless children (Ibid.).
But father-hunger can be assuaged,
We talk about the role of the absent father. I suffered from that. My father left me when I was 10 years old and I did not see him again until he was dying when I was 26. The socio-economic conditions that a number of these young people grow up in I was exposed to in the sense of crime and drugs. It was not necessarily something that I took a part in, but a turning point in my life was simply a man who I never saw before, and it took possibly about an hour of his time to sit down, pull me to one side and say, ‘Look, Ken, irrespective of the path that society says you will take, I see something different in you’. Maybe I was ready to listen at that time, but all I know is that was a pivotal turning point in my life, and from then I recognised and I, again, understood from personal experience how valuable it is to have an adult in your life who can give you that direction (Ibid.).
And the Government has an obvious role to play in undoing the damage,
But the Government can support black fathers, can support black men to be fathers in the community, provide them with job opportunities, have affirmative action, provide opportunities for the men in our community (Ibid.).
The report acknowledged the contribution made by fatherlessness and recognized the truth that in Britain ‘black children overall are more likely to grow up in single parent households’. The report repeated what many of the witnesses had said, but began to introduce doubt; it needed to allow mothers to choose the politically-correct option of lone parenthood, its conclusion thus contradicted its own evidence: ‘The fact that a father does not live in the same household with his children is not, in itself, an indication of insufficient parental support,’ and warned of the dangers of trying to impose a ‘Eurocentric family model’ upon black families. By the time the report reached its conclusion what had begun as an unambiguous statement of the need for fathers had become equivocal, ‘a lack of father involvement may have a negative impact on the development of young black males’.
The report offered no solution to fatherlessness in the black community though it suggested the Government carry out an evaluation of support for parenting. It also urged expansion of mentoring programmes; certainly mentoring has a role to play, but it is a poor substitute for fathering, and its inclusion showed the utter failure of courage which characterises public discussion. Children, black or white, don’t need mentors, they need fathers.
By the time the Government produced its response every reference to fathers had been expunged: the F-word did not appear once. Instead the response was replete with the mentoring concept, and agreed to establish ‘a national role model programme for black boys and young black men’. Predictably, however, the Government refused to create a database to monitor the methods and effectiveness of different mentoring organisations. In September 2007 it set up its own mentoring programme (the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation), though crucially this was dedicated to ‘peer mentoring’ – that is, mentors of the same age as the mentee – and was not designed or equipped to compensate for the loss of a father.
Traditionally, inspirational male teachers have provided vital role models for fatherless children, but such opportunities are becoming rarer. By 2010 only a quarter of Britain’s teachers were men, and most of them taught in secondary schools (General Teaching Council for England, 2010); 11% no longer worked in the classroom. Male teachers made up only 12% of primary school teachers, and a quarter of primary schools (and six secondary schools) had no male teachers at all. In state-run nurseries the situation was even worse and in September 2011 there were a mere 48 male staff (Paton, 2009). One of them described the prejudices which kept men out of his profession,
Even in my first week at the children’s centre I encouraged anxiety from a parent who was reluctant to leave their three-year-old in my care because I am a male within a female-dominated environment (Garner, 2010a).
Half of children between five and eleven have no contact at all with male teachers, and in inner city areas 70% of children have no father. For many children the first man they meet will be the one arresting them. For a man to enter the teaching profession, and particularly the teaching of young children, is to put his head on a block. At all times he must watch his back and be on the alert for accusers; should he inadvertently touch a child or be alone in a room with one he makes himself vulnerable to false charges, or a hidden report. He has entered a career which many women regard as their rightful domain and one a man wishes to enter only if his intentions are improper. He may well find he is the only male in the school, and will have no one with whom to share his concerns. A report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers revealed that a false allegation had been made against more than 1 teacher in 4 (Association of Teachers and Lecturers, 2009). Only 5% of these resulted in a conviction, and the majority of those falsely accused were men.
It is little wonder there is a widening gender gap in education. A Level results for 2013 show 28.5% more girls achieved the top grades (A*, A and B) than boys. GCSE results showed 40.9% more girls than boys getting at least an A grade (Paton, 2013). A shocking 40% of boys enter secondary schools unable to read or write, compared with 25% of girls. 50.6% more girls went to university in 2011/12 than boys (Ratcliffe, 2013). The result is that within a few years professions such as medicine and law will be dominated by women just as education already is: it is a vicious spiral, but there is no government plan to counter it.
Girls learn they are cleverer than boys by the age of 4 and one study showed such prejudice derives directly from female teachers who commend stereotypically feminine behaviour and disparage normal boyish behaviour; women teachers mark girls’ work more favourably than that of boys (Hartley & Sutton, 2010). Nine times as many boys as girls are diagnosed as having ADHD (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), a condition for which there is no blood test, no scientific basis and which is defined by behaviours such as fidgeting, running about or a failure to concentrate. It may well be that normal masculinity has been turned into an illness – treated in 2012 by 662,000 prescriptions for Ritalin, a potentially life-threatening drug with an effect similar to amphetamines – when in reality the problem is a combination of fatherlessness, junk-food nutrition, female teachers who cannot cope with normal male behaviour, and a culture which chooses to enforce standards of conventional behaviour through medication rather than discipline. Shortly before his death in 2009, Leon Eisenberg, ‘the father of ADHD’, admitted it was a fictitious, hypothetical disorder, a social construct (von Blech, 2012); Edward C. Hamlyn, a founding member of the Royal College of General Practitioners, called it ‘a fraud intended to justify starting children on a life of drug addiction’.
Boys raised without fathers and without male role models are left floundering, easy prey to those who would exploit them or lead them into lives of crime, gangs and drugs. If this were the result of war or disease it would be heart-breaking; that it is the product of deliberate policy is monstrous. While there is a pusillanimous refusal even to use the word ‘father’ in public debate, and the word ‘family’ is redefined to denote a household from which the father has been removed, there is little hope for these children, or for our ravaged society. These destructive trends will persist: boys will continue to underperform at school and be outnumbered by girls at university and in the workplace. Girls will shun these boys who have neither qualifications nor prospects and continue to have babies without fathers, trusting to the liberality of the state, and so the whole sorry cycle will perpetuate itself.
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